STEP Experience: Brazil Global May Program

My STEP Project was a study abroad experience where I traveled with 23 other Ohio State students to Brazil for the Brazil Global May program. Our program was focused on studying the history and culture of Brazil. We traveled to various parts of Brazil including Sao Paulo, Salvador and Sao Jose de Rio Preto.

I had never been out of the United States before this trip. I knew that countries around the world were much different than the United States, but I had no idea has vast the differences would be. I also realized that Brazil and the US are very similar to one another. This trip gave me a new perspective on the similarities and differences that countries around the world face. This redefined understanding of worldliness was the biggest transformation that I saw take place during my experience.

Brazil in many ways is similar to the United States. The major cities have some very nice areas and some not so nice areas. Public transportation is very important for how the city operates. In Brazil, busses are the most common mode of transportation while subway systems are superior in the major US cities. Brazil is still in the developing stages and the infrastructures for subway systems are being built in some of the major cities (Salvador) but for others (Sao Paulo) the city already has a solid system set up. Another similarity between the two countries is the passion they have for their sport teams, especially for the city that they are from. Observing Brazilians watch a soccer game on tv reminds me of how American college students look on fall Saturday afternoons watching their football teams. Another major similarity that I noticed between the US and Brazil is the love for music that the people of both countries have. I also witnessed how music unites people. Capoeira is a very popular Brazilian dance, but it is so much more than just a dance. It involves instruments, singing, clapping, and dancing. Even if you did not directly participate in the capoeira dance, you were still able to participate in the activity of capoeira. You could play an instrument or just join in the singing of the traditional songs that were sung during the dance. The vibe that capoeira gives off is something that I will never forget. I also witnessed how song and music united our group on the trip. Numerous times, you could have found some members of our group singing various hit songs from the United States. This was a commonality that existed for our group and created a similar sense of community that was created by capoeira.

Brazil and the United States face many of the same issues. For example, both countries struggle with the relationship between the police force and the general public. Police systems are put into place to keep the peace of a nation and to protect its citizens from harm. However, many people in today’s society feel threatened by the police force and do not believe that they provide security. These beliefs are with good reason, as in the United States, officers have been opening fire on seemingly innocent children based on the color of their skin. While in Brazil, I didn’t feel as much hostility between the people and the police as I currently do in the United States. I believe one of the reasons for this is that Brazilian police forces are trying to change the way people view the police. They are trying to benefit their people in more ways than providing safety for the people. The police are providing outreach programs to its citizens where the citizens can come to the police station and learn skills to better themselves. The outreach program that I speak of is operated from the heart of a favela. Favelas are some of the most dangerous areas in Brazil and the police are trying to make a positive change in the community. I could only wish that United States police could start making the news for headlines of helping the community, rather than provoking riots in the community.

Brazil and the United States both have a large African population that is rooted from slavery. The European explorers who founded each of our countries took advantage of the African Slave trade that provided cheap labor for the newly developing countries. Before this trip, I knew that Brazil had a significant African influence but it wasn’t until we arrived in Salvador that I realized the extent of the influence from Africa. The history and culture of the people of Salvador’s ancestors were preserved and still practiced in everyday life.

People of African descent struggled to gain rights after the end of slavery in their respective countries. The struggle still exists in both countries and it is a constant battle to become completely “equal” with the rest of society. However, the situation is much worse in Brazil as the country seems to be years behind the United States in many aspects including equal rights for all citizens. In the United States, we struggled for years after slavery was abolished and it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s that changes started to make an impact. Even in today’s society, we are still seeing firsts for black people. We had the first black President in 2008 when we elected Barack Obama. Tony Dungee was the first black NFL coach to win a Super Bowl in 2007. However, the struggles that Brazil face are so far behind the United States. Blacks represent about 50% of the population in Brazil and they still struggle to gain representation in the government system. When we visited the Steve Biko Institute (a program to help black students prepare for college placement tests) the students there felt that the United States had “made it” because we have a black President. The idea of this occurring in Brazil is such a far-fetched idea that it is almost laughable to them. However, the African-American students from Ohio State and the rest of our group agreed that racism and unequal rights still exist in the United States. It just gave me a new perspective that even though the United States struggles with racism and unequal rights for blacks and other minorities, we are so much better off than other countries who are still in the developing phases.

One of the biggest differences that I noticed about Brazil in comparison to the United States is the importance of family. In Brazil, it is very common to live in the same building as your parents or at least in the same town, when you are old enough to have your own place. In the United States, it is not typical to live in the same house/apartment building as your parents when you move out. Normally, this is frowned upon because it seems like you are never growing up. However it is the total opposite in Brazil. For example, I had two host “brothers” that lived in the same apartment as their mother and they were both older than 25. In fact, one of them recently got married and he and his wife are moving in upstairs. I enjoy this aspect of Brazilian culture because family is very important to me. Another difference that is very apparent is the difference in the cuisine. The Brazilian diet consists of much more fruit and “suco” (juice) than the American diet. There have been plenty of foods that I have been missing from back home because they are just not a part of the Brazilian diet. I have had an entire year’s amount of rice and beans in the month that I have been here. Also, there is no such thing as free water here. In the US I tend to drink water at every meal and do not pay anything for it and I can get unlimited refills, while on the other hand, I have to pay for water in Brazil and it is not unlimited.

Another major difference that I saw between Brazil and the United States is the difference in college education. In Brazil, the public universities are the tougher universities to get admitted to and provide a better education. In the US, the private universities are typically more prestigious and harder to get into. In Brazil, a college education is free. In the United States this is not the case and it tends to cause people to go into massive debt or they choose to attend a worse school academically to save money. I believe that the US would be better off if they provided a free college education to students because it would allow students to attend the best universities that they get into, rather than attending less prestigious academic schools.

A very obvious difference between Brazil and the United States is the language. In Brazil they speak Portuguese, which I was told is similar to Spanish, but I quickly found out that that statement is slightly faulty. It was definitely a culture shock on day 1 when I struggled to get food at the rest stop. I quickly realized that this next month was going to be a roller coaster when it came to communication. I can confidently say that I am able to effectively function in Brazil but I am years away from being able to have full on conversations with people. When I was at a loss for words, I would use a lot a movements, motions and sounds to get my point across. I will probably continue to use more movements in my communication ability when I return to the United States. I feel like our group represented Americans in a positive light on this trip because whenever we struggled to communicate our go-to words consisted of thank you (obrigado(a)), sorry (desculpe), and no thank you (nao obrigado(a)). I’m not sure if everyone is that polite when they are back in the United States but I am going to assume that it is true. At first when communicating with my host family, I would use google translate on my phone to help move the conversation along. As the days passed by, I tried to use its assistance less and less and I felt that I was becoming a better communicator with my mother (who spoke no English).

I am not able to describe exactly how this experience will impact my future career but it has made me reconsider the rest of my academic career. I was able to survive the month in Brazil without any prior knowledge of the language, but I was not able to thrive in Brazil. I have intentions to work for a multinational company and want to travel to other countries for work. I have gained an appreciation for knowing the language of the country you are visiting. People who took Portuguese classes at Ohio State before we went to Brazil, definitely had an upper hand when it came to communication and I feel that the people who had prior knowledge of the language were able to enjoy the experience on an even greater level. I feel this way because they were able to practice their skills while those who had no experience were trying to pick up on enough knowledge to get by. This trip has made me want to take language classes again (most likely Spanish) so that I will be able to travel to certain countries and communicate with the people who live there. I believe that I have learned a lot about myself from this trip and I feel that I have grown as a person. One of the major things that I learned about myself is that I believe I have a large amount of patience and I believe that my patience tolerance is much higher than others. Throughout a month long journey where you see the same 24 other people all day, every day, you see them at their highs and at their lows. Towards the end of the trip, I witnessed and listened to my fellow trip members voicing their frustration towards other members of the trip. They started to pick up on the flaws of others and not enjoy the company of certain people. I felt that I was one of the few people who was able to keep a level head about the whole situation and not get annoyed with others. This patience also helped me out for all the times when the Brazilian nature for travel kicked in. Brazilians are very relaxed and not hurried when it comes to travel. There were many times on our trip when we were late for meeting times, our plans changed or our plans got completely cancelled. Especially on the first day of our journey, when our flight got cancelled and we missed our connecting flight to Sao Paulo. Being a day late to Brazil seemed to frustrate a lot of my peers but I learned that I have an enormous amount of patience and understanding for difficult situations. Having patience and understanding allowed me to keep my cool during all of these subtle changes. I see this skill translating to the rest of my academic experience and to the rest of my life because I will be able to play to a strength of mine (patience) when faced with difficult situations.

Overall, this experience has been incredible and it has shown me that the world has much more to offer than what is in the United States. Living in another country for an entire month, I was able to truly appreciate many of the aspects of Brazilian culture that were different from the United States and also appreciate the aspects of US culture that Brazil lacks. I am thankful for the opportunity to travel to a country that is drastically different than the United States because it opened my eyes to differences in ideals, culture, and ways of living. I feel that I am able to better appreciate differences amongst people rather than write them off, from my time in Brazil. My first experience abroad has only made me hungrier to continue traveling abroad in the future and to experience all that the world has to offer.